J. A. Di Bello’s Review of Moonlight and Magnolias

July 12, 2019

County Players

Falls Theatre

Wappingers Falls

     Opening night at the Falls Theatre in historic Wappingers Falls is always an event to be highly anticipated. The County Players have established a reputation for presenting quality theatre in this most appealing and functional venue. Friday night’s presentation of Moonlight and Magnolias, by Ron Hutchinson, was no exception. In fact, of this season’s theatrical presentation, reviewed by this writer, the Players’ efforts far surpassed others, billed as comedies!

The plot deals with the trials and tribulations David O Selsnick encounters while creating a functional script for the film industry’s iconic “Gone with the Wind.” To narrow the presentation down, it’s wise to consider the multiple genres of comedy, specifically slapstick and farce. Often appearing as simple theatrical devices, these avenues for presenting humor require actors with a level of stage savvy, i.e., acuity and shrewdness that is not easily taught. It develops with experience. Slapstick and farce minus these qualities quickly becomes a balloon without air.

But rest assured, there was an abundance air at the Falls, i.e., the required ingredients Friday night at the Falls theatre. The elements needed to make comedy funny were plentiful and prudently delivered through the play’s entirety. A seriously abundant audience reflected its appreciation with giggles, chuckles and a few good-ol’ belly laughs.

Carrying the show, with skilled acting abilities was Rick Meyer, as the show’s protagonist, David O. Selznick. Rick’s ability to project and combine his physical language with the script was an element that contributed to causing this farce to work. In that same vein is Bob McCarthy in the role of Victor Fleming, an award-winning cinematographer and director. Bob’s outstanding ability to hold the stage and react in near perfect sync with the antics of his costars is consistent and effective. Rounding out the three main characters in this Hollywood saga of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” is Jim Granger as Ben Hecht, a well-known screen writer, novelist and activist during and post WWII. Jim Granger’s physical presence in this role and the message he sends is spot-on the character presented in Hutchinson’s Marigolds. Mr. Granger might amplify his already notable stage presence with attention to vocal projection and the avoidance of throwing lines into the wings.

 However, before breaking camp with the idea that Moonlight and Magnolias is limited to a clever collection of laughs and ha-ha’s, serious subjects, as they pertain to race and ethnicity are prevalent. There are the alleged issues of glorifying a racist South via the film “Gone with the Wind” and the matter of Hollywood’s Jewishness in the late 30s. Ron Hutchinson’s play, first produced in 2005, and commendably directed here by Michael J. Frohnhoefer is intelligent and dignified: Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” is historical, a story of war, love, passion and betrayal (circa 1865). The setting, Hollywood (1939), is also history. Ethnic and religious prejudices were an undignified fact of that period. For the super sensitive, there’s no defamation. Enjoy the show.

Aside from the above, it not usual to point out the presence of comic relief in a farce. But, Molly Feibel, while making her County Player’s stage debut as Miss Poppenghul, is exactly that. She generates a laugh by simply appearing through the office door. Also, a serious of kudos to props (what a mess) and crew for a functional stage.

Moonlight and Magnolias will continue it’s run at the Falls Theatre in Wappingers Falls through July 27. Tickets are available at the box office, 845-298-1491 or on line at http://countyplayers.org/tickets/

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